Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 4/4/13
He is not like most athletes. And that, it seems, is why we are intent on ruining him. Speaking with Rory McIlroy, the former No. 1 golfer in the world and reigning PGA champion, is not like engaging with Aaron Rodgers or Derek Jeter, even though all three are fine, accommodating people who make themselves reasonably available. But unlike the others, Rory hasnt developed the ego yet, or the walls that go with it. Since hes from Northern Ireland and a newbie to baseball he hasnt learned the lesson Crash Davis taught in Bull Durham when he said, You be cocky and arrogant, even when you're getting beat. That's the secret. You gotta play with fear and arrogance. McIlroy appears to posses neither fear nor a hint of arrogance. He is open, gracious, calm, honest, and humble. And because of that, his critics are chewing him to shreds. After 32 weeks atop the World Golf Rankings, McIlroy lost his perch when Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25. In typical fashion, the mop-topped Ulsterman said things like, With me trying to get my game back to where I think it can be, its nice to just go not just go about my business and no one cares but go about it and not be, I guess, the most talked about person in golf. Of course he was criticized for saying that, just as he has been lambasted for buying a mansion in Jupiter, Fla., and for having a hot tennis-star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, and for signing a 200 million equipment and apparel deal with Nike, a deal Hall of Famer Nick Faldo called dangerous. Just so were clear: a delightful 23-year-old athlete who is unfailingly polite has landed a great house in a posh neighborhood that he shares with his beautiful, charming, and equally successful girlfriend. He has reached the pinnacle of his profession with two major championships under his belt, and is financially set for life. But Sir Faldo, whose total career earnings were 6,953,373, said the Nike deal was, a very dangerous thing because you dont want to mess with your confidence. And Johnny Miller, who won the same number of majors in a 25-year career as McIlroy has in 23 years of life, said, The minute I heard that he was going to switch everything, I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's a gamble. McIlroy has done little to quiet his critics. He walked off the course in Palm Beach after dumping a ball in the water at the Honda Classic, and he barely made the cut in the Houston Open. An even-par opening around at the Valero Texas Open will almost certainly have the haters buzzing. But he doesnt seem fazed. I dont care if I miss 10 cuts in a row if I win a major a year, McIlroy said a week before the Masters. Of course, its not good for your confidence if youre missing 10 cuts in a row. But when people look back on a career they dont remember the low points. What I remember about last year are my five wins, my second major, the Ryder Cup, winning Player of the Year awards on both (U.S. PGA and European PGA) tours. I dont remember missing four out of five cuts, or whatever it was in the middle of the year. Those same skeptics who view becoming nine-figure, private-jet wealthy as a risky career move wondered what was wrong a year ago when McIlroy was missing those five cuts in a row, so this current round of criticism should come as no surprise. It is far older than todays media. In fact, it goes back to the dawn of mankind. As Shakespeare so aptly noted in "Henry IV," Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. All modern athletes know it. They know their every utterance will be analyzed and every action will be subjected to microscopic scrutiny. That is why football players say things like It was all about my teammates doing a great job blocking, and baseball players say, You just have to take it one game at a time. Its why even the best guys in sports never reveal too much of themselves, even to those they trust. And its why McIlroy needs to play well in Augusta. It will, if only for awhile, quiet the beast that aims to destroy him. This has been a learning curve, McIlroy said, not just of the tweaks he has made to his golf game of late, but to the adjustments he has made in life. If we werent learning and we werent making mistakes then there would be something wrong. Those words, so innocent and real, fuel McIlroys popularity and make the 200 million deals seem worth it. They could also be what eventually tear him down.
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